Laura McKowen somewhat reluctantly overcame what she describes as a “life-threatening drinking problem”. She then started to share her story with others through her website and podcasts before she decided to leave her successful corporate advertising career in order to pursue writing, teaching and speaking full time. Laura very candidly and honestly shares her story with Annie and how she came to a place where her life’s purpose is to help others in such an amazing way.
Welcome Laura McKowen
Today, I’m here with Laura McKowen and this is just the best. We have not talked face to face in probably two years, more than two years. If you don’t know Laura McKowen, she is probably one of the most talented writers. I mean hands down has a way to craft words that just reach the deepest parts of you. It’s really beautiful. Your writing just since the beginning has been incredible for me personally, but just also something that I just so readily share with just about everybody.
Laura McKowen’s Story
I grew up in a drinking family, where drinking was just a thing that … It wasn’t always overdone, but it was just done all the time. Alcohol was just always kind of there and around and flowing. And I thought that’s just what adults did, and a lot. I didn’t even realize that my family was more of a drinking family than others until I got married and my husband was like, “Your family drinks a lot.” And I didn’t really know.
I think drinkers hang out with drinkers. Right? And so everyone that came over was just drinking. It was the first thing you do when someone walks in the house is, “Do you want a drink?”
No matter what time, no matter what day it is. And my ex-husband now, he was like, “Your family drinks a lot.” I would go to his family’s things, and they would have some stuff there. But it was not the main attraction. So I started, when I was 16. I drank a little bit in high school. It wasn’t anything crazy. But I do remember a really pivotal point in my drinking. I graduated early at 17, not advanced or anything. It was just I was an August baby. So I had a graduation party at my family’s restaurant. We owned a restaurant, which was a lot of the drinking seeds were planted there too.
I had a really bad eating disorder at that time. I was tiny, and constantly thinking about my body. Constantly thinking about trying to get some semblance of control in my life. I was afraid of alcohol, but I liked doing it because it let me … If you’ve experienced an eating disorder, it kind of numbs you out. And I couldn’t feel anything anymore. It was like all I was doing was sort of surviving in the world, basic survival instincts, or basic survival needs, and trying to deny them. So feelings were secondary. I drank so that I could feel a little bit, and also so it also numbed … It was a weird thing.
I would always regret doing it because it would lessen the control on my eating. I would always eat, like binge of some kind. Then I would have that whole loop of regret, but it allowed me to forget what I was doing, forget myself enough to do it. That day, I was drinking Bacardi Limon and Diet Coke, eww, so gross. I could drink openly with my family, and I was going back to the bar to refill. It was probably my third one, big tumbler full. I was filling up, like filling up the drink, and I remember thinking,
“If I can just stay like this, I’ll be okay. If I can just stay like this feeling, I could be okay because all my insecurities went away.”
I always really awkward with boys. Of course I really wanted them to like me, but I didn’t know how to do that. I was more uncomfortable with sexuality. I was kind of a late bloomer.
It was scary. I knew there was something really scary about that thought. If I could just stay this way, did that mean I’m just going to be drunk for the rest of my life? I really thought that’s my key, the answer to unlocking Laura McKowen.
It just seemed like the fixer for everything. For me, I drank problematically from the beginning. I knew in college, I started to get the sense that I really liked it a lot more than other people, and that I just didn’t have the off switch. There was never enough. I just thought that was the way in and I hung out with people who drank a lot. So we were all in the same agreement. This is what you do. This is who Laura McKowen is. This is what it means to be an adult.
I had no interest in social drinking. I wanted to go for the black out or the pass out or whatever. It’s not like I was trying to do those things, but that’s what happened every time. It got a little bit better when I met the guy that I was going to marry because I was distracted enough, and I was motivated enough to not fuck it up. So I slowed down. I was in love. It’s like I was getting the dopamine somewhere else for a while.
It really changed when I had my daughter. I just became something very different. I think that’s what a lot of women experience. You have to hold up so much more. You’re exhausted. I just think of as that is the time when my drinking really stopped working. I remember distinctly that feeling of, “This is making things so much worse, or I don’t get that relief anymore.” It’s not that I knew it was making it worse, it was just like my relief window was like 30 minutes. Then I started to feel wretched anxiety, which I already had. It just poured gasoline on it, couldn’t sleep.
Things Fall Apart
It just started to catch up. All the things that drinking does started to really catch up with me as a mom. My marriage was struggling. I started drinking kind of at that. We had a really rough start to our marriage. We had a lot of just shit happen in our lives. It was 2010. My daughter was born in 2009 and the year after that was the horrific financial crisis. We were both unemployed at the same time at one point. We moved across the country twice. Things were really really hard. I remember looking at our bank account. I would see we have $110 between two adults with like our phones blowing up for bill collection.
And I would think, “How am I gonna buy wine?” ‘Cause that’s the thing that needs to happen. It was like a non negotiable for me.
Fast forward a few years and my marriage fell apart. It didn’t fall apart because of my drinking, that wasn’t the main thing. It was absolutely 100 percent a contributing factor, because I was dishonest. I was not present. I had no idea how to tell the truth. Drinking was more important to me. I wanted him to get the fuck out of my way, because he was like, “You have to slow down.” He always saw it as like a self medication thing because he knew all the stuff I was going through too. And he was like, “Don’t drink when you’re upset.” He was just sort of watching me spiral in a lot of ways.
We separated. When we separated it was like, “Okay. Nobody’s watching me anymore. I can drink however I want. And I’m single again. Hallelujah.” It was just the biggest shit show ever. It was scary because when I didn’t have my daughter, I just wouldn’t come home for nights at a time. I would stay like at the coworker’s . I would stay with people I don’t know. I had a dog. I would come home just to take her out and then leave again. It was so sloppy and so messy and so scary. And within a year, I got a DUI. I had the horrific sort of bottom incident with my daughter where I left her in a hotel room overnight at a wedding.
That was when I was forced to stop and I had to consider that maybe I need to get sober. Maybe I need to address this. Those two things were just two of thousands of things that should have maybe clued me into the fact that this wasn’t working. I looked pretty good. Killing it at work. I worked in advertising and marketing. Kept getting promotions. I was really good at playing the part. But everything was a mess. And then, I started to go to AA meetings ’cause I didn’t know what else to do.
In September of 2014, had my last day one. It was just like a very sad sort of resignation then, there was nothing left for me in drinking. There was no even 30 seconds of relief. I knew too much. I didn’t know that it was gonna be the end of it for me. The realization was I couldn’t think like forever, because it sounded awful. So I just would say, “Okay, just today, you’re not going to. That’s it. Like period, today, just make it to 8:00 and make it home and eat. And if you can do that, chances are you’re not gonna drink.”
I kept doing that. And shortly after that, I started writing a lot more, started home podcasts, and then it was like I sort of came out to the world as being sober. There was no way I was turning around. It’s not just because of that that I didn’t turn around, but that was a big piece of it. Also things just got a lot fucking better. A lot better. And then they got harder in different ways.
Listen to the complete podcast to learn more about how Laura Mckowen’s story improved when she started allowing herself to feel, to process and to be.
Special music thank you to the Kevin MacLeod Funkorama (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License